In 2019, the inherently unpredictable and violent Middle East has driven pro-US Arab regimes — all of which face lethal domestic and external threats — to expand their strategic cooperation with Israel.
The substantial US-Israel common strategic denominator, the growing role of Israel as a unique US ally, and the enhanced mutually beneficial nature of US-Israel and Israel-Arab cooperation have been a byproduct of the following critical developments:
The recent Iranian offensive demonstrated by the June 2019 attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman and the May 2019 assaults on vessels in the Persian Gulf port of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates;
The mushrooming Turkish military buildup in Iraq, Syria, Qatar, and Somalia (the largest since the 1922 demise of the Ottoman Empire);
The proliferation of Shiite (Iran-related) and Sunni (Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, etc.) terrorism and subversion;
The Iranian entrenchment in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Bahrain, the Al-Hasa oil region in Saudi Arabia, etc.;
The transformation of the “Arab Spring” illusion of democracy into the “Arab Tsunami” reality of despotic regimes, as evidenced by the intensification of intra-Arab/Muslim and inter-Arab/Muslim conflicts, which threaten every pro-US Arab regime; and
Israel’s systematic track record of democracy, unconditional alliance with the United States, military and commercial effectiveness, game-changing technological innovation, and second-to-none optimism, patriotism, and attachment to roots.
The precarious state of the Middle East, and the top challenges facing pro-US Arab regimes — all of whom resoundingly opposed the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran in particular, and former US President Barack Obama’s Middle East policy in general — were articulated on June 18 by the Arab League Secretary General and former Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit:
The crisis with Iran and Turkey has aggravated to the point that holding a dialogue with them has become futile. … We see today the threats Iran and its wings are posing to Arab and global security as regards safety of global navigation and commercial routes. … Iran considers the Arab region an open “terra nullius” [“nobody’s land”] for its own expansion, and gives itself the right to interfere in the crises of some Arab countries [e.g., Iraq, Syria, Yemen]. …
Turkey seeks to promote its own ideologies and political Islam, giving itself the right to [invade/access] neighboring countries [Iraq, Syria, Qatar, and Somalia] on the pretext of protecting its own national security, without any consideration to other countries’ sovereignty. Both Turkey and Iran see ongoing crises in the region as a chance for more expansion.
According to the June 18 edition of Saudi daily A-Sharq al-Awsat, which reflects the worldview of the House of Saud, the United States has approved Israel’s systematic bombing of Iranian military sites in Syria — in defiance of the Russian S-300 air defense system operated by Syria — because it considers the Israeli raids an effective tool to constrain the ayatollahs’ regional expansion.
Contrary to conventional Western wisdom, the growing concern about Iran’s ayatollahs and other critical regional challenges increasingly overshadows the Palestinian issue, as was demonstrated by the February 2019 60-country summit on Iran in Warsaw, Poland, at which there was no Palestinian presence. Furthermore, Israel’s relations with all pro-US Arab countries have improved substantially, irrespective of the paralysis on the Palestinian front.
According to The Atlantic, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, “like many Arab leaders, has tired of the Palestinians,” while considering Israel a key member in the regional alliance against the “triangle of evil,” which consists of Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other Sunni terrorist organizations.
In the words of Jamal al-Suwaidi, the founder of the United Arab Emirates Center for Strategic Studies: “The Palestinian cause is no longer at the forefront of Arab interests. … It has sharply lost priority in light of the challenges, threats, and problems that face countries of the region.”
In fact, the Arab attitude towards the Palestinians has been consistent since 1949 — when Jordan and Egypt occupied Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip, and did not transfer the regions to the Palestinians. There was no Arab support in 1982 when Israel devastated PLO headquarters in Lebanon, expelling the PLO leadership from Beirut, and no Arab outcry in 1991 when Kuwait expelled some 300,000 PLO-affiliated Palestinians in response to Palestinian collaboration with Saddam Hussein’s destruction of Kuwait.
There was no Arab support during Israel’s wars against Palestinian terrorism in Gaza in 2008, 2012, and 2014.
According to The Guardian, intelligence, counter-terrorism, and military and commercial cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Bahrain have been routine since the mid-1990s, switching to a higher gear in recent years.
Hence, Israel’s existence in the Middle East has extended the strategic reach of the US, bolstering the national and homeland security of America’s Arab allies in the Persian Gulf and throughout the Middle East, producing an effective headwind to Iran’s megalomaniacal aspirations and enhancing the war on Islamic terrorism.
This has spared the need to expand US military bases in the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean, Red Sea, Mediterranean, and wider Middle East, and the necessity to dispatch additional US military divisions and aircraft carriers to the region, which would cost the US taxpayer billions of dollars annually.
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A US-Israel Initiative.